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Work Hard & Play Nice

Understanding the Seven Cooperative Principles

There may be some truth to the saying that “all I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten.” From a young age, we are taught that sharing is caring, that teamwork makes the dream work, and that we should always leave a place better than we found it. 

Simple as they may seem, these childhood lessons are the same rules that guide the work we do every day here at InterBel. Cooperatives around the world operate according to the same set of core principles, adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance. With these principles, we are able to function differently from larger national corporations—providing higher quality services, keeping profits local, and helping our rural communities thrive.

  1. Open and Voluntary Membership

Membership in a cooperative is open to all people who are able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, regardless of race, religion, gender, or economic circumstances.

  1. Democratic Member Control

Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Directors and trustees are elected by the membership and in return are accountable to them. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote); cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

When you purchase services like broadband or TV from InterBel, you aren’t just our customer. You are a member of our cooperative, with a voice in all of our major decisions. 

  1. Members’ Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. A portion of that capital remains the common property of the cooperative. Members empower our community by using funds for things like: developing the cooperative, setting up reserves, benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative, and supporting other activities approved by the membership (you).

This principle is the reason InterBel is able to invest thousands of dollars into our community every year through student scholarships, event sponsorships, and more.

  1. Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control as well as their unique identity.

Because we don’t answer to outside stakeholders, cooperatives like InterBel can focus on what really matters: providing the best possible service for our members at the fairest prices.

  1. Education, Training, and Information

In order to make informed decisions about the future of our cooperative and our community, it’s important for our members to be aware of the work that is going on behind the scenes—that’s why we’ve launched this newsletter! 

Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, CEOs, and employees to help them effectively contribute to the development of their cooperatives. They also inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

  1. Cooperation Among Cooperatives

By working together through local, national, regional and international structures, cooperatives improve services, bolster local economies, and deal more effectively with social and community needs.

One powerful example of cooperative cooperation is the relationship between InterBel and Lincoln Electric Cooperative. For more than three decades, our two cooperatives operated jointly under one roof. It was not until 1993 that InterBel became an independent entity, and since then we have continued to find ways to collaborate with Lincoln Electric. We formed Eureka Rural Development Partners in 2002, which has paved the way for many significant projects and contributed millions of dollars in grants over the years. 

“We have so much in common with what we do, which is providing an essential service,” said Telly Stanger, General Manager of Lincoln Electric Cooperative. “I think that partnerships in a small community like this really goes a long way. We can call on each other when we need help with something. I think it builds that comradery and trust.”

  1. Concern for Community

And finally, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies supported by the membership.

While the language of these principles may seem formal, they really aren’t all that different from the simple lessons we learned in kindergarten. At the end of the day, it all comes down to sharing, teamwork, honesty, and making the world a better place—and really, what else do we need to know?  

To learn more about the seven cooperative principles and the impact that they can have on our communities, visit